He wasn’t a dancer. He was not compelled to frantic, ecstatic, possessed movement by the music of the world that so few could hear. He did not work blood magic on hearts that beat as drums; no unearthly tunes whispered past his fangs. He was a Panthera Walker, a hunter clad in leathers and furs, a shadow among shadows in the woods.
He wasn’t a dancer.
The forest was made of huge old oaks and smaller, scruffier, still-green pines. The ground was covered in rotting cones, and the hulls of nuts long since devoured, and brown needles, and dead, withered brambles; the canopy above was a mesh of thick patches of green and long, greyed fingers of bare limbs. The sky was dull and lifeless with the low-hanging clouds that bore neither snow nor rain, the sun a faint glow in the corner as it sank towards a blood-red demise.
He wasn’t a dancer, but as he walked step-step-step through that early winter wood, all he could hear was the pounding of his own heart in his chest. No wind stirred the broken foliage around him or lifted his tangled mane from his eyes, but he could hear it screaming past him all the same, frigid and moist and mockingly close.
The beasts in the forest slept the long sleep. Some would not wake, and their bodies would feed those who did. Tiny bear cubs hid beneath their mothers’ rolls of fat, and squirrels clustered together in the hearts of the grey trees for warmth and safety. The birds did not sing, not even the great winter owls who swooped, silently, to prey on those few rodents that did not take the long sleep.
He wasn’t a dancer, but as he forged past the thorns and the brush, all he could smell was the steam that rose off his own body, the musk of his fur, the metal of his blood. It was cold, even to one of the hardier Walkers like himself, and he wore little clothing to shield himself from the elements. The sheer heat radiating from his own self kept him warm. And the smell of blood was all around, dancing in intangible currents of barely-seen crimson. An aura of scarlet in a grey wood.
The streams were many and fast in the forest, cold and clean and rocky as they plunged down short hills and babbled across uneven beds to some unknown destination. Tiny, hard-scaled silver fish raced the water currents and feasted upon their kindred when the cold bested one and not the rest. They were vicious little things, difficult to entice to bite a hook and more difficult to spear. But the river hawks hunted them as the winter owls hunted the mice and rats that were still awake and about.
He wasn’t a dancer, but as he crossed one such stream, the silverfish were not fish at all but bright white points of light, zipping past in a haze of silver water that glowed with health. His eyes were glazed, he knew–he could feel how unfocused his gaze was and could not, at all, hone in on anything. Drifts of color and light passed him as though he waded through intangible fog, his own body still giving off the wisps of crimson bloodheat. The riverhawks were golden arrows as they dove for the water’s surface, heedless of his presence; the winter owls were black shadows that swept across open glades to seek their prey.
Duskbringer paused in his fog of scarlet and did not need to turn his head to see the fine lace of greens and greys around him–the scarves of living color permeated the very air around him that he breathed, soaked into the back of his skull. “I am not a dancer,” he said to the world, and he could feel the world laugh in its immeasurable silence.Deep beneath the beat of his heart, the drums of the earth and the sky began to play, and the Walker knelt and clutched his chest as the music took him.
Image Credit: Crestock Creative Photos.
There’s an old, worn parchment pinned to a tree just outside your clan’s territory, half a leap off the downtrodden path you’re on. It flutters in the wind, stubbornly refusing to rip or fade, and you approach it curiously. The script is large and graceless, but there’s a certain flow to the characters that suggests a strong, callused hand.
Steel plunging into flesh and cleaving through bone.
It is always a horrific sound to hear, that crack of snapping bones, the splash of suddenly-spilt blood crashing like a crimson wave against your breastplate as you rip the sword out of the enemy’s chest. The flesh clings to the dripping blade in ragged tendrils, and if you look closely enough, you might see the torso flatten a little as the lungs deflated. If you were a pious man, you might believe that the soul left with the final breath…
Always unnerving to be on the receiving end, to feel that explosion of white-hot agony erupt from the shattered breastbone, flaming down the spine and up into the skull like a crescendo of raw, searing pain. To watch with wide, staring eyes as the swordsman draws his blade back and smiles grimly; to watch him seem to rise above you as you crumple, hitting your knees before toppling backwards.
After a while, the brief seconds eternal, the encompassing agony becomes background noise, a sort of comfortable numbness.
And then, after a spate of nothingness, no-thought and no-feeling, sucking in a pained breath and screaming with the first exhalation because it hurts so much that you can’t think. The lifewalker who dragged your blind, lost spirit back to your half-healed body is standing behind you and urging you up, to take up your blade, to rejoin the fray–
All the while, you’re still bleeding cold blood, and natural magic is whirling around you as the lifewalker channels health into your broken body. You can’t stop seeing flashes of utter blackness, complete oblivion, and you’re shaken to the core that you faced Eclipse and came back from it to see the light of Father’s face in the sky above you.
And the next thing you know, your fingers are curled around the haft of your axe or the hilt of your sword, and you’re lifting your weapon high to drive the blade deep into your enemy’s chest. You watch with a grim little smile as he stares at you in utter shock and disbelief, blood beginning to dribble from his lips as he falls to his knees, and then topples backwards.
That is war.
We are bloodwalkers. We are the soldiers who fall, and we are the warriors who rise again to fight.
My name is Blademaker. Once upon a time, I was a weaponsmith, one of the best. And then the Elderwar intensified and drew even the most peaceful of the Walkers into the bloodbath. Even me.
I have seen the enemy. I have fought them countless times now. I have died and been raised by our healers, our lifewalkers. And I have fought on.
There is no end to the Elderwar in sight. I, and the Lupos, and my fellow Walkers, all fight simply to survive.
It is time to start fighting for peace.
Oh, Ykinde. One of my prized worlds, a land of organic magic and dieselpunk technology, the setting of Into Fang Wood. I have done more work on this world than I have on most others, Lavana and Cadora being the exceptions that spring to mind. (Cadora may be introduced in a later blog post, but as I have no current projects set there, it may be some ways down the road.)
Bear with me, as there’s a lot to tell about Ykinde and this post may wind up a little long.
It’s impossible to describe Ykinde without briefly introducing you to its four major intelligent races: Avans, humans, Lupos, and Panthera. Each link will take you to a complete page on their physical capabilities, their castes/classes, and their cultures, but I’ve provided a brief summary below.
Avans are tall, slender, wingless bird-people with round faces and curving beaks. Renowned for their knowledge of and skill with magic, Avans are sophisticated, civilized people whose bright plumage and love of flowing, ornate clothing easily sets them apart from all other Ykindeans. Living under the idea of Beauty in grand and beautiful cities, most Avans are mages or artful warriors, though many are medical scholars, and some few profess to be naturalists. They are mortal enemies of the Lupos, engaged in the Elderwar for centuries running, and relentless in their quest to see the wolf-people vanquished; they are allies with the humans and most Avans are neutral towards the Panthera, although many will fight them alongside Lupos if necessary.
Humans are remarkably average, tail-less, flat-faced people with bare skin and unimpressive bodies. Well-known for their ingenuity and inventiveness, humans tinker with mechanical devices and sort themselves into family-run businesses. Neutral in the Elderwar, they act as merchants and traders to both Lupos and Avans, supplying both races with whatever goods and raw materials are in high demand. One human family enslaved the Panthera Walker tribe as bodyguards and servants, but after the Walkers’ escape from slavery, most humans will kill or seek to capture Panthera on sight. Humans preserve and enforce their neutrality with both Lupos and Avans, straddling the most profitable line of action at all times. Though they are businesspeople first and foremost, dedicated to their family’s trade, humans also study other paths: they are soldiers, medics, witches, or engineers.
Lupos are powerful, furred, tauroid wolf-people with four legs and two arms. A strong and spiritual people, the Lupos live in harmony with the natural world around them, worshiping Father Sun, Mother Moon, Brother Sky, and Sister Earth. Lupos band together in clans, led by a single chieftain and a few betas; many are shamans and braves, while others are healers and rangers. Their tools and weaponry are simple, sturdy, and plain; they have little use for showy luxuries or impractical belongings. They are mortal enemies of the Avans, engaged in the Elderwar for centuries running, and they are tireless in their efforts to defend their land and their people; they are allies with the humans, and most clans are also allied with or neutral towards the Panthera. The Tehar Lupos were the ones to succor the Panthera Walkers when they escaped from human slavery in Royalwood.
Panthera are lithe, agile, feral cat-people with wide faces and rounded ears. Traditionally primitive and nomadic, the Panthera wander Ykinde in tribes, moving as part of the predator-prey cycle as hunters. One particular tribe, the Panthera Walkers, was captured and enslaved by humans; after many years, they escaped and found sanctuary with the Tehar Lupos, rebuilding their tribe and becoming the first stationary band of Panthera Ykinde had ever seen. (The Hunters are the only other non-nomadic Panthera tribe; they are an off-shoot of the Walkers.) Nomadic Panthera have few possessions or tools, but the Walkers and Hunters trade with Lupos and have a similar quality of life. Many are bloodwalkers and spiritwalkers, while others are lifewalkers and beastwalkers. They are enemies of the humans, their former slavers, and allies with the Lupos; they are neutral towards many Avans, but will fight those who attack their wolfish allies.
Most of Ykinde is fairly temperate, experiencing seasonal changes. The farther north you go, the less lush the land becomes, devolving into sparse deciduous forests, mountains with evergreens, and finally flattened tundras. There is quite a large portion of land that consists mostly of rolling mountains, savannas, and scattered greenery. The coasts are extensive and tend to be quite tropical, except for the northernmost stretches; nearly all of the coastline is well-forested, oftentimes a jungle, and pocked with inlets and small bays that make perfect seaports for the human traders. Both Lupos and Avans prefer to settle in rich lands with many trees; the Lupos keep their lands well-forested to encourage grazing animals, whereas the Avans will clear out patches to build their cities and to farm.
Humans have controlled Ykinde’s economy since the beginning of the Elderwar. They established a basic currency using gems and coins made of precious metals, made prices relative to the buyer’s race, and also established a quality check for items to be bartered, rather than purchased. They trade only with Lupos and Avans, killing or attempting to capture Panthera on sight. Panthera barter goods with Lupos, who barter goods or use currency to trade with humans, who use currency (or very rarely barter) to trade with Avans. Each race has its forte in amassing raw goods and crafting some things: Panthera are skilled leatherworkers, Lupos construct sturdy homes and also are good weaponcrafters, humans invent and create technological gadgets, and Avans are skilled weaponsmiths. All of the races are at least decent at making weaponry and armor, as well as living quarters and other basic tools to survive.